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No Smoking Aces bribe by Nikolic: Zahra

Mark Zahra denies being offered a bribe by Danny Nikolic in the Smoking Aces affair or being petrified of his fellow jockey.

A court has heard Zahra’s father told a Racing Victoria investigator they were frightened they could “end up in a ditch” if they said anything against Nikolic.

Forced to give evidence to Nikolic’s appeal to regain his jockey licence, Zahra said he had never been petrified by the jockey nor felt intimidated by him.

“I’m not petrified, that’s what I’m saying,” Zahra told the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Wednesday.

The tribunal heard John Zahra had described Nikolic as the “scum of the earth” to the RV investigator and said he and his son were more petrified than anything else of Nikolic.

“He’s got too many underworld contacts and stuff, that you guys probably already know about,” he said.

“We’re just frightened that if we say something against him we’re likely to end up in a ditch, so we don’t.”

Mark Zahra said it was not true and he had no idea why his father thought that.

Zahra said he was never offered a bribe by Nikolic over the April 2011 race at Cranbourne won by Nikolic’s mount Smoking Aces.

Nikolic has also denied offering Zahra a bribe.

Zahra, who failed to have a summons to give evidence to VCAT set aside, denied being offered or receiving a bribe when questioned by Racing Victoria stewards.

RV barrister Jeff Gleeson QC asked: “It is the case isn’t it that prior to speaking to the stewards you’d spoken to other authorities and admitted to having been offered or received a bribe.”

Zahra said no.

Gleeson read out part of a Fairfax report stating that police evidence including material from phone taps recorded during the investigation into the murder of horse trainer Les Samba, Nikolic’s former father-in-law, were never passed on to Racing Victoria.

VCAT heard the report stated it was believed the phone taps revealed that one jockey was offered $5000 to let Smoking Aces win but was only paid $3000.

No criminal or racing charges were laid after investigations by police and RV into Smoking Aces.

Gleeson said Nikolic was the subject of significant and sustained suspicion about Smoking Aces and whether he bribed Zahra was highly relevant when considering if he should be relicensed.

“It is the case of Racing Victoria that Mr Nikolic is a violent, aggressive and intimidatory person,” Gleeson said.

Nikolic earlier told VCAT he did not know his friend Eddie Hayson was banned from TAB betting when he gave his partner’s account PIN code to the controversial Sydney gambling figure.

Nikolic said he only became aware of Hayson’s TAB punting ban when partner Tania Hyett’s account was frozen four months ago after Hayson used it to bet one Saturday, having deposited $9000-$10,000 in money he owed the jockey.

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